VISY Industries Global Executive Chairman Anthony Pratt says the export of reliable, safe food may end up being Australia’s greatest contribution to global food security.
Mr Pratt made the prediction when appearing as a key note speaker at the Crawford Fund’s annual conference held in Canberra this week.
The billionaire paper and recycling magnate told the high level gathering of food and agricultural industry delegates the demand for safe, nutritious food would increase dramatically across Asia in coming years, as purchasing power increased and supply chains elongate.
He cited the example of China’s larger food companies increasingly looking towards places like Australia to meet their future demand for safe, high quality food, especially in the wake of high profile food security incidents like the “Melamine in Milk” scandals in 2008 and 2010, which saw milk and infant formula contaminated with melamine.
Mr Pratt said consumers considered Australia’s clean, green and safe credentials some of the highest in the world, with a can of Australian milk powder selling for $50, “an enormous amount per ton”.
“Per capita, we have twenty times more land than China, India and Indonesia and sixty times more than Japan,” he said.
“And per capita we have ten times more water than China and eighteen times more than India.
“It’s the Murray Goulburns, the Nestlés, the Unilevers - our customers - that we need to support to get this done.
“We need to promote, protect and extend this reputation of Australia’s food companies.”
Mr Pratt said Australia had a great food manufacturing heritage but more work must be done to secure the nation’s place at the food security table, to help the globe.
He said the nation needed to better communicate, cultivate and collaborate.
“We must better communicate the fact that food is critical to Australia’s future, just as wool and minerals have been in the past,” he said.
“Food is here to stay.
“It’s not a fad.
“Food and added value is the way for our nation to go.
“And we also have to better cultivate our land, water and human resources.
“These essential inputs to the food security equation are actually our national strengths and we should play to them.
“And we must all work harder to collaborate within the food sector here and with other countries with whom we can do business.”
Demand for more protein
Mr Pratt said the United Nations had predicted that by 2050 there would be 9.6 billion people on the planet.
He said, beyond the simple headcount, a huge growing middle class in China and India meant a shift to more protein.
But he said to produce one kilo of protein, eight times more grain and five times more land was needed, than non-protein based food.
That goal is taking place in a world where arable land is shrinking due to the ravages of climate change, he said.
Mr Pratt also cited food waste as the number one impediment to global food security.
“Globally, crop diseases cause losses of 40 per cent in horticulture, 15pc in grains, 50pc in fish and over 20pc in livestock,” he said.
“And a further one third of the food beyond the farm gate is wasted, so eliminating food waste alone could feed the coming 9 billion people with today’s production levels.
“So why not aim to double the effective calorie delivery from the current level of agricultural production?”
Mr Pratt said the best way to reduce food waste and maximise calorie delivery was to increase the ratio of processed food to total food.
He said when a raw food becomes processed food it can be best valued, protected, stored and safely delivered to customers.
“By exporting our food and agricultural expertise, services, and know how, we continue to multiply our food security contribution,” he said.
“As the old saying goes ‘give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish...’.”
Government not always the best innovator
Gerda Verburg, chair of the UN Committee on World Food Security and of the World Economic Forum Council on Food Security and Nutrition, told the conference the finger was often pointed at governments as having the primary role to play in achieving food security and nutrition “and their role is significant”.
But Ms Verburg said governments don’t always make the best investor or the best innovator.
She said governments should focus on areas where they can have a significant influence like providing stable and predictable environments through longer-term policymaking for stakeholders, to engage more deeply.
“It’s not the role of one actor to end hunger, nor could it possibly be done by one actor or one stakeholder group,” she said.
“Australia occupies a unique position as a mature economy, with a strong agricultural sector, surrounded by developing countries in a region with many emerging economies where food demand is expected to double.
“There can be no sustainability without profitability and profits will only be sustainable in the long-term if they are achieved responsibly.
“Food and agribusiness have an enormous impact on every aspect of our lives – environmentally, socially, and economically – a US$5 trillion industry which represents 10pc of consumer spending, 40pc of employment, and 30pc of greenhouse gas emissions globally.
“Actions taken or not taken in this sector will make or break how successful we are at sustaining ourselves into the decades to come.
“It will take ambitious game changing action by all of us.”